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Whatever Remains (However Improbable)

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There was a long, unbroken wall in a certain corridor of the USS Enterprise. At the ship's launch, it was smooth, unmarked, soft grey, and it pulled the eye irresistibly when one walked past it. Had it been in a city, it would have been a psychedelic melange of graffiti tags, painted one on top of the other by countless, faceless artists striving for a space to claim. Starfleet would never allow spray paint on its flagships, but the Enterprise was enough like a self-contained city for certain parallels, and so it was no real surprise to walk down that corridor one day and discover that someone had stuck a photograph to it, right smack in the middle.

It was a picture of a blue sky, filled with fluffy clouds.

It drew attention, among people who hadn't seen the sky of Earth in months, and from there the floodgates opened. Every day more things were added to the mural: photos, drawings, original poetry, quotes from famous authors, historical figures and people in Engineering (frequently uncensored), and, eventually (far too frequently), memorials of those lost. Those took up all of one end, four long strides of photos and keepsakes and little snippets of memory, scrawled on precious scraps of paper.

Jim loved that wall, every inch of it. Whenever he was feeling the right kind of contemplative (too much for chess with Spock, not enough to hide on Observation Deck C with the door locked), he would pass time in the corridor, reading the words, taking in the images, marvelling over the new additions. For the sake of plausible deniability, no one ever signed their name to anything, but it was fun to guess who'd left what. Uhura seemed to have an ongoing sketch study of people at work on the bridge; someone else (Lt. Breen, he thought) left bits of poetry scattered around. He'd never contributed to it himself, though; it seemed to be a living organism of expression for the crew and he felt strange, as the captain, trying to be part of it. He felt grateful enough to take it all in and leave the corridor with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

One day, in the middle of Beta shift, he made his way to the Wall (he was off for the evening but there was paperwork, and... not just then, he'd decided) and began his customary stroll from one end to the other, smiling briefly at two ensigns who passed him. He always started at the memorials and moved on to the more artistic regions afterwards. They'd lost Lewis and Huang in a Klingon encounter the previous week and their photos were up; he gave them due consideration, scanning all the crew contributions thoughtfully, and thought about the letters he'd written to their families. He walked on. A caricature of Bones as a mad scientist caught his eye and he smirked. Dried flowers swiped from one of the ornamental gardens on Andor, pinned to a poem about the colour green. A sketch of Sulu, staring vacantly at the viewscreen during an uneventful shift.

He stopped when he reached the poem, tacked in the space between two photos from Scotty's birthday party. It was new, possibly added that day, and written in tight, spiky handwriting on a sheet of teslin ripped out of a printer somewhere. His fingers reached out to press it flat against the wall as he read.

I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.

I love you only because it's you the one I love;
I hate you deeply, and hating you
Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.

Maybe January light will consume
My heart with its cruel
Ray, stealing my key to true calm.

In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.

Pablo Neruda

Jim let out a breath he hadn't consciously been holding, and stood staring at the page for several minutes before heading back to his quarters.

***

His plan was ingenious, he thought.

"Seen the Wall lately?" he asked Uhura over dinner the next evening.

She made a noise of affirmation through a mouthful of sandwich.

"I like the cartoon of Bones. But there's this poem someone put up; it was pretty but I've never heard of the author. Somebody Spanish."

She suddenly seemed to be chewing with far more enjoyment than replicated roast beef really deserved. Her eyes were dancing as she swallowed, and finally the grin busted out. "Pablo Neruda?" she asked sweetly.

"Yes. You have mustard on your lip," Jim said spitefully.

She licked it off, never breaking eye contact. "You read that poem, did you?"

He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Did you put it up there? You're into poetry."

She shook her head. "Nope. I'm not really into Neruda." She looked back down at her food, but she was still smiling.

Jim was clearly missing something important here, and he didn't like it.

But he liked to think he didn't get to be captain of a starship without having braincells to rub together, so he made some inferences. "You know who did put it up. And why." He thought quickly. "It's there to make a statement," he said confidently. "Oh my god! There's gossip in this!"

"All that deduction and no Watson to be found," Uhura teased.

"Just shut up and tell me if I'm right or not."

"You're on the right track," she said, "and that's all you're getting out of me. Good luck with that, Jim." She stood up and ruffled his hair obnoxiously before making her way over to the recycler.

"You heinous witch!" he called after her.

Bones sat down across from him as he turned back around. "She telling you things that you don't want to hear about yourself, again?"

"You consort with a heinous witch, Bones," Jim groused, poking at his dinner.

"I like her that way."

***

The added mystery of purpose made the poem on the Wall even more attractive, and Jim found himself drawn to it so many times over the next week that he learned it off by heart. It was pining and passionate and desperate, and the lack of knowing what (or who) it was meant for ate at him. Uhura was smirking at him far too often recently and he couldn't get useful information out of anyone else. He was going to go crazy.

Lines from it chased each other through his head whenever he let his mind wander, and images of fire occupied him as he buzzed Spock's quarters for admission to their regularly scheduled chess game.

"Please enter," Spock said when the door opened, standing up from his desk. "I have just remembered a data PADD which I require from the astrometrics lab; I will return in a moment."

Jim nodded and wandered inside, his hands stuffed in his pockets, as Spock passed him to head to the labs. Jim glanced around the room, adjusting to the blanket-like warmth of the air as he took in the curios arranged neatly here and there, the last things Spock had in his possession from Vulcan. There was a small assortment of bound books on shelves, too, collected from his time in San Francisco, and Jim gravitated toward them, peering at the worn spines.

There were a handful of poetry books and Jim froze when his eyes caught on one in particular; it was a paperback with a cracked spine, but 'Neruda' was clearly visible. He took a guilty glance around at the vacant quarters before pulling it off the shelf. There was a bookmark neatly tucked into it and he let the book fall open, curiosity consuming him.

The poetry inside was all in Spanish; Jim skimmed over it, vaguely, and had nearly lost interest when he suddenly realized (half-forgotten Spanish kicking in) what he was reading.

No te quiero sino porque te quiero
y de quererte a no quererte llego...

"From waiting to not waiting for you," he mumbled to himself, "my heart moves from cold to fire." He snapped the book shut and replaced it on the shelf only a moment before Spock returned. Jim folded his hands behind his back and turned to smile at him.

"I apologize for keeping you waiting," Spock said, leaving the PADD on his desk before crossing the room to the chessboard, where Jim joined him.

"No worries," Jim said. "I was checking out your book collection. You're a poetry fan."

"I am certain that you knew this."

Jim grinned down at the board as he set up the black pieces. "I was recently introduced to this dude named Neruda though, and I was interested to see that you've got one of his books."

"It is written in Spanish, but you may borrow it if you wish." Jim glanced up but Spock had the usual bland expression on his face. He didn't really know what he'd been expecting, come to think of it. 'Cool under pressure' fell short in describing Spock's usually unflappable attitude.

"Yeah, I speak some Spanish. I wouldn't mind borrowing it."

Spock set the last piece and glanced up. "He was a compelling poet. I believe his words to be quite adequate in describing emotions."

Jim leaned back in his chair, meeting Spock's gaze with a grin. "Yeah?" he said, feeling vaguely giddy.

"Indeed," Spock said, his mouth twitching upwards just a bit.

 

THE END